Saturday, August 31, 2013

High school drop outs want what?

Here's a headline I want to see:

Activist who wants McDonald's to pay workers $15 an hour interviewed by reporter who makes $13 an hour

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Politicization of Martin Luther King Jr.

I heard a few of the speakers at yesterday's 50th anniversary of MLK's I Have a Dream speech on NPR while I was driving. It turns out women weren't allowed to speak at the original event, something the NPR reporter brushed off as a quaint, acceptable custom of that time.

Another group that wasn't allowed to speak at the 2013 group appeared to be Republicans, but I was flat-out wrong. Here's what I read today on a Wall Street Journal blog:

Former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond told MSNBC Wednesday that event organizers invited “a long list of Republicans to come,” but each declined. A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner acknowledged that Mr. Boehner was invited to speak but instead had marked the anniversary by speaking at a July event commemorating the march in the Rotunda of the Capitol, with other top lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.).
Both President Bushes were unable to go because of recent health problems.

There were plenty of Democratic politicians at the event on the Mall yesterday, including presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Predictably, they spent as much time as they could sneaking in shout-outs to every left-wing issue they could, including income inequality, the minimum wage, so-called assault weapon bans, calls to raise taxes, environmental policy and stand your ground laws.

No one should have been surprised, of course. I was disappointed, but certainly not surprised.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Centaur biology

Who doesn't love reading intelligently-written pieces on stupid subjects?

I've always found the biology of centaurs to be confusing. Mythical animals typically have some basis in the animal kingdom, but simply grafting a human torso onto the shoulders of a horse brings some serious logistical problems. Does the horse-torso have lungs too? Are nearly all organ systems redundant? Is the human-torso bladder missing?

I recently discovered an in-depth piece on centaur anatomy written by Dr. H.C. Reinhard V. Putz in the Annals of Improbable Research that explores these issues with mock seriousness.

He proposes that some systems, like the nervous system, would have a single unified system through both torsos and others would have dual systems in both torsos, such as a heart in each chest, for the circulatory, digestive and urogenital systems.

One troubling thought does remain. As Dr. Putz said, mythology depicts centaurs as eating human food and not horse food. This is logical as they had human teeth and jaws, however it presents a nutritional problem. Horses need massive amounts of food to feed their large bodies and centaurs have even more mass with the extra torso but a smaller mouth. That means they would have to spend most of their time feeding to maintain their body weight, much like the common hummingbird.

Perhaps centaurs would have been more practical if it had a way of drawing nutrition from a symbiotic species, such as a human body with a horse-like head for feeding.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

We'd win by a landslide

Art Carden asks who would win a competitive ideological Turing test between young conservatives and young progressives:

Personally, I would bet everything on the young conservatives, and normally I don't like to gamble.

My generation lives in a left-wing bubble with academia and leftist bias in movies, song lyrics, trendy entertainment websites and selected news sources passed along social media. I've found young progressives completely inept at understanding the other side of important issues like the Citizens United ruling or trying to discover motivations for conservative positions other than hatred, greed or religion.

Meanwhile, youth culture exposes young conservatives to many of these things. They may turn to Fox News or fail to understand that the government isn't necessarily endorsing gay marriage when it allows it, but they still end up hearing the same bleeding heart rock songs and seeing the same anti-capitalist movies.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Two for one from Tyler

Tyler Cowen covers two popular misconceptions about multinational corporations in this new MRU video: The idea that they are often bigger than major nations and that they "exploit" poor workers in other nations.

The error of trying to compare GDP to profits or annual sales was completely lost on me. See the comments for a quick exchange on additional flaws in that line of thinking, and a plug for this Martin Wolf essay.

I plan to use the "exploitation" line about what happened in Haiti after the factories left in future discussions. He also nails it when he says that if they don't think the wages in third world countries are high enough, wouldn't they be driven up by encouraging more countries to compete for those workers?


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm completely stumped

I can't tell if this image is sarcastic or not:

If you can't see the image, it's a young woman holding a "I need feminism because" sign that finishes it with "My gender studies degree is just as valid as anyone else's degree."

This could be a perfect parody. I really have no idea. Does anyone have any insight to share?


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Local solar is not a virtue in dark New England

Driving through Northampton, Massachusetts today I saw a banner that read "Keep Solar Local."

Solar pride is a common groan-inducing sight in the bay state. Massachusetts is filthy with solar panels, and not because this is a good place to make energy from the sun. In fact, it's a lousy place with long, dark winters. Bright deserts make great locations for solar arrays, but that assumes your goal is to produce energy. If you goal is to make a profit from government subsidies and you don't care how much energy you produce then Massachusetts is a great place to install them.

However, it turns out the "Keep Solar Local" campaign is really a campaign to do business with a single solar installer simply because it is "local." That company, Northeast Solar, is actually from Hatfield, a neighboring and therefore competing municipality, but they don't seem to care because it's more local than anyone else.

On its website Northeast Solar claims "We can provide competitive pricing today" but a recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette shows the company started this campaign when they couldn't compete in a fair bidding process:

Gregory Garrison, president of Northeast Solar in Hatfield, argues this is a short-sighted decision that does not help the state’s Clean Energy Center meet its self-described mandate to create high-quality jobs and economic growth through its renewable energy programs. 
He said these goals cannot be accomplished by selecting the lowest bidder within a Solarize community, whose intent is only to drive down costs and install as much solar as possible.

The emphasis was added by me, of course.

When a company can't compete with superior service or lower prices they resort to phony localist economic claims as a hail Mary play.

Friday, August 16, 2013

PZ Myers is the mirror of Ben Stein

It's always sad to see a brilliant thinker leave their area of expertise and embarrass himself with ignorant statements on a subject they don't understand.

I was heartbroken when I learned Ben Stein was hosting the intelligent design documentary Expelled. I had tremendous respect for his economic and financial insight, but here he was spouting off a bunch of nonsense against the science of biology.

Now take the case of biology professor and blogger PZ Myers. It's true I never cared for Myers, but it's hard to take him seriously as an intellectual after reading his infantile and confused blog post about an economic paper from 2006 that argued menstruation-related absences were a minor factor in the gender wage gap.

Myers defends the methodology of the paper in its detection of a 28-day cycle where female workers at an Italian bank were more likely to miss a day of work. The conclusion he rejects, however, is that absenteeism is one of the factors in wages and promotions. He balks at the idea that frequently missing work is going to impact how someone is evaluated at work:

They’re going to argue that wages and promotions are set rationally, by impartial observers looking at just a few simply quantifiable characteristics, like absenteeism. Has anyone in the history of humankind ever worked at a job like that? Punch in, punch out, zoom, you’re climbing the ladder of success and no one ever looks at your work…or the color of your skin or the kind of genitals you keep in your pants…and all decisions might as well be made by a computer.

He freely admits that female employees have higher rates of absences, but shuts down when confronted with the idea that the gender wage gap could stem from anything other than discrimination. When the authors of the paper declared that they are not going to take a stand on if governments should subsidize the wages of female workers to compensate for their biologically-determined wage differences, Myers drops the ball again and goes on an irrelevant rant about biological functions like bathroom breaks and meal times.

After some vague anti-capitalist claptrap Myers ended his piece with calls for revolutionaries to "rise up," presumably against capitalism.

The cliches are almost as painful as the failed attempt at an analysis. The authors were merely stating that menstruation-based absenteeism could explain 11.8 percent of the gender wage gap on average, or about 0.59 percent of the total wage gap. What Myers wrote only makes sense if he believed the authors meant that absenteeism explains the entire gap.

Stick to underwater mating mechanics, PZ, and I'll try to keep Ben Stein out of your laboratory.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The legend of infinite wealth

In the introduction for the game Borderlands, narrator Marcus Kincaid shares the legend of the vault, which he says contains alien technology, power and infinite wealth.

This idea stuck out to me, that a tangible vault could contain an unlimited supply of gold and jewels or items that could be redeemed for an unrestrained amount of wealth. On it's face it was impossible. The concept clearly came from puffery and careless exaggeration.

Yet, there are occasional left wing demands that assume the government, wealthy individuals or large corporations have somehow cracked the code on infinite wealth because they are "rich."

Right now union activists are making a show of demanding that McDonald's pays all of it's workers $15 an hour or more. The idea is that the the McDonald's corporation is "rich" and therefore can pay its workers any amount of money they dream of.

Wealthy Americans, we are told, can afford to pay higher taxes because they are "rich" and will not miss the money, as if the pool of money they each possess is bottomless.

The government itself is seen as a bottomless well that should be increasing welfare payments, social security checks, teacher salaries, the number of cushy government jobs, public parks, forgive student loans and provide every medical procedure anyone wants for no additional cost.

While being wealthy is a real concept, no one has infinite wealth. While there will still be times when it is justified to increase wages, taxes and government programs all of these things will come at a cost to someone. That always needs to be considered a factor, but sadly, it is not.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Keynes is a boss

My good friend and beloved econ sparring partner Dylan came up with the idea of reading John Maynard Keynes' General Theory and some of Hayek's writing so we can both learn more about how the other half lives.

I love this idea, and I hope it inspires Dylan to write in his blog again. I already had the book on my shelf and started reading it last night. I was immediately impressed with how bold Keynes' was in his first chapter, which consisted of a single paragraph saying that the purpose of the book is to overturn and replace the classical way of looking at economics, as the classic theory only applies to a special case. His final sentence read:

Moreover, the characteristics of the special case assumed by the classical theory happen not to be those of the economic society which we actually live, with the result that its teaching is misleading and disastrous if we attempt to apply it to the facts of experience.

Big words, and the truth is, the history of economic thought shows that Keynes was able to back them up.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Act of Killing hits the bruise

A few years ago I was playing a boxing video game against a friend. I didn't really know what I was doing but as we were playing a long, multi-round match against each other. A few rounds in I saw that my friend's virtual fighter was getting a bruise just below his left eye. So I targeted it. As the match progressed, I saw the bruise was getting darker and darker and the announcer said it was a cause for concern. I kept hitting that spot over and over until the injury got so bad the fight was stopped

Tonight when I saw The Act of Killing, a documentary that talks to retired gangsters who committed mass murders in the 1960s in Indonesia and are treated as celebrities today, I felt that the director spotted a bruise on one of his subjects and punched it until the man broke.

Like all the men highlighted in The Act of Killing, Anwar Congo was never punished for his major human rights violations. He estimated that he killed a thousand people by strangulation, bludgeoning and decapitation. He never felt bad about it because most of them were suspected communists and the communists were the likely culprits of a failed military coup. However, Congo is still haunted by them in his dreams.

The filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer got Congo and several others to reenact the killings. Some of the reenactments were accurate but others were in abstract settings such as a western or gangster movie scene. During a reenactment where Congo played a victim being strangled by wire he started to feel upset and wanted to stop. Later, he viewed the footage from that scene and started to cry because he felt he knew what his victims went though. Oppenheimer told him he knew it was only an act while the victims knew they were being killed.

When Congo started wiping away tears I knew they were calling the match. Oppenheimer pounded that bruise until it bled.

This is a phenomenal piece. When the credits started the entire theater sat mute for a long time, creating the most palpable uncomfortable silence I have ever seen a public performance. I can't recommend this film highly enough.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gideon at A Public Defender has found the ultimate anti-Zimmerman verdict piece on the blog In These Times and completely demolished it. The original piece claimed that the jurors suffered from hubris when they gave a not-guilty verdict and claimed they know more about the case than a casual viewer of MSNBC would.

Gideon completely nailed this. The In These Times piece comes from a dark world where the facts are whatever one believes them to be and the only purpose of a jury is to return a conviction.

Hat tip to that great hat in Rome, Popehat.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Your Marissa Alexander narrative is a lie

The American left loves a victim good narrative and they can't get enough of the Marissa Alexander story. She is being held up as a reflection of George Zimmerman: A black woman who used a gun to defend herself and was given a stiff 20 year prison sentence for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Here's a recent development:

State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, is hoping the Florida Cabinet will help secure a pardon for Marissa Alexander.  
Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing what she described as a warning shot at her husband. She tried to claim immunity under the state's controversial Stand Your Ground law, but was found guilty.

Bullard penned letters about the case to Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater last week.

The popular narrative is that Alexander's husband was coming after her and she fired a bullet to scare him off. Her story in court was a little more involved, that the two had an argument in the bedroom after he discovered inappropriate text messages she sent to her ex husband. He blocked her from leaving but she eventually escaped and went to her car in the garage. She couldn't get the garage door to open and was trapped so she took a gun from her car and went to the kitchen to escape. She then saw her husband was still coming for her so she fired a warning shot near his head.

There's a few problems with her story. The police found the garage door had no problem when they arrived, and there was no reason to believe it wasn't working before. The evidence suggests that crucial detail in her story was a complete fiction.

It also doesn't make sense that she would fire a warning shot after her husband had put up his hands if this was entirely self defense. The husband and his two sons fled the house and they were the ones who called 911. She stayed in the house and did not attempt to contact authorities, which is inconsistent with her claims of being the victim and not the aggressor.

What her defenders are completely unaware of, even though it is stated as clear as day in the court documents, is that while out on bail for this case Alexander she drove to the home her husband was staying at and attacked him, giving him a large bruise on his eye. She wasn't even supposed to contact him as bail condition.

National Review and Media Trackers bring up compelling evidence that the husband tried to lie in his court deposition to defend her. Here's Ian Tuttle of National Review:

Gray’s history of abuse does not make him a sympathetic victim, but victim — in this case, at least — he seems to be. Defenders of Alexander like to quote Gray’s initial deposition: “I got five baby mamas,” he says at one point, “and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one.” He claims that the text messages put him “in a rage,” and that he told Alexander, “If I can’t have you nobody going to have you.” As for her trying to flee the house, Gray “knew that she couldn’t leave out the garage because the garage door was locked.” He also tells a markedly different story about the events surrounding the gunshot: “She came back through the doors and she had a gun. And she said, ‘You need to leave.’ I told her, ‘I ain’t leaving until you talk to me’ . . . and I started walking towards her and she shot in the air.” 
But the deposition is a problem for two reasons: First, because it was in obvious conflict with his initial report to police. (You can listen to Gray’s call to 911 here; he sounds decidedly panicked, and he repeats his story to the dispatcher — several times – consistently.) Second, and more important, because Gray lied. According to Judge Elizabeth A. Senterfitt, Gray and Alexander met in November of 2010 and “discussed what [Gray] should say during [his] deposition.” In April 2012, CNN reported that “Gray said he lied during his deposition after conspiring with his wife in an effort to protect her.”

Perhaps Gray has a hidden chivalrous side. But, either way, it does not matter. The evidence supports his initial report, not the claims in the deposition.

Marissa Alexander supporters want to compare her treatment to that of George Zimmerman. Well, if Alexander is the equivalent of Zimmerman than who is Trayvon Martin here? I submit it's not the husband; it's his sons.

Imagine you are one of husbands sons, two boys ages 9 and 13. Like Trayvon, you are black, if that matters to you. Your father gets into a loud argument with his new wife and tells you that you are all leaving the house. You see your step mom go into the garage and come back with a gun. You are standing next to dad and she points the gun at the three of you. You don't know what's going to happen next but someone is pointing a weapon at you. You realize you could die any second. After some words are exchanged she fires the weapon and a bullet sails over your head.

This movement to overturn Alexander's conviction is what happens when ignorant people allow themselves to get swept up in Internet rumors. There's nothing noble about this cause and Alexander could have taken a 3 year plea bargain but gambled on a jury trial instead. Thankfully for the sake of those two little boys the jury, with its 12 minute deliberation, wasn't lead by stupid rumors and righteous indignation.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Goofy feminism is tenured feminism

Because everyone loves beating a dead horse, here's a video of Richard Dawkins talking about feminists who called Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica a "rape manual" and condemned other physics discoveries as sexist.

The feminist who smeared a classic book on physics as sexist is Sandra Harding, a professor of gender studies at UCLA.

Of course.

Of course Harding is a professor. Of course she is tenured. I often hear the defense that the wacky things come from the fringes. Well, the fringes are tenured.

Luce Irigaray, who proposed the idea that fluid mechanics is neglected by scientists because it is a metaphore for feminity was merely a PhD student and is now an influential philosophy author, but that idea was championed by N. Katherine Hayles, who taught at UCLA, University of Iowa, University of Missouri–Rolla, the California Institute of Technology, and Dartmouth College and is now a tenured professor at Duke.

Of course.

Sadly, the fringes are the ones in academia, both the professors and the students. It's the moderates who are separated from the formal structure. Modern, third-wave feminism is rotten from the top and only separation from the elites allow feminists to be moderate.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Five things that will happen when you date a libertarian

I was recently challenged to write a libertarian version of a piece about what to expect when dating a Marxist. The problem is, I've never dated a libertarian. Instead I've predicted what is typical for me and my kindred to do without being overly generous or complimentary.

1. They will believe they are smarter than you.

It doesn't matter if they're an economics professor or the half-dead survivor of a helmet-less motorcycle crash; your libertarian mate will consider themself to be the smart one, and where does that leave you? Oh sure, they'll tell you that they respect your intelligence, but they'll still try to suppress a smirk when you speak about positive government interventions. After all, if you were so smart you'd be a libertarian too.

You will be told, often, that you are hurting whatever cause you champion. Do you care about sweat shop workers? Demanding safety standards hurts them. Do you want to protect handicap people from discrimination? The laws are worse. Do you want to protect abortion rights? Well we haven't figured out the details yet but somehow you're the real problem.

2. You will be asked to read things.

Or maybe watch things. Either way, they will be long things. Often poorly-written things like Friedrich Hayek things. You can expect some Frederic Bastiat, some Milton Friedman and eventually, Ayn Rand. Even if they claim to disagree with Rand your liberty lad or lass will want you to consume her work the way a cow chews its cud: With glossy, unblinking eyes and no opportunity for enjoyment.

There will also be economics lessons and videos. Always. They will spend a lot of time on Adam Smith's invisible hand and the self-organizing nature of capitalism, but they will leave out market failures. Make sure you read up on externalities, asymmetrical information and public goods on your own because you won't hear them from your partner.

3. If there's an obvious villain in an ongoing news story your partner will take their side.

Is Monsanto suing a farmer? They deserve to win. Did a gun owner shoot an unarmed child? Self defense.
Did the Supreme Court allow corporations to air as many ads as they want during an election season? That's a free speech victory.

The more repugnant something is, the greater glee libertarians will take in supporting it.

The exception is if the villain is part of the government. In that case your libertarian lover will jump in front of every parade or march against it.

4. They will try to outdoing you on social liberalism.

They know that you two will never see eye to eye on fiscal issues, but even the fiercest contrarian feels the need for peer approval like a secret Holden Caulfield. While you will never write love sonnets to capitalism and globalization together, your freedom freak will want to impress you with how socially enlightened they are.

Support gay marriage? They are way passed that and on to legalizing group marriages. How about legalizing marijuana? Sure, whatever, it will be moot once we legalize heroin and cocaine.

5. Your Facebook comments will become a battleground.

With your newfound love commenting on your reposted news articles something bad is going to happen. Eventually malicious remarks will be exchanged online between your libertarian and one of your dear friends who doesn't know them. It's not a question if it will happen, but when. It may be your lover or it may be your friend, but one of them will get so fed up with the others' expression of an opposing view that they will launch into a screed laced with personal attacks. Nazis will be mentioned eventually.

It doesn't sound so bad but when your partner and a dear friend are howling for each other's blood online you will feel thrust in the middle.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

No, unreasonable wage increases would not have simple results

Forbes Staff Writer Clare O'Connor penned a fundamentally-flawed piece this week trumpeting the claim that a radical wage increase for McDonald's employees would have a minor effect on the price of food.

O'Connor breathlessly repeated the claims of Arnobio Morelix, a research assistant at the University of Kansas School of Business. Despite his listed credentials his thought process reveal him as a non-economist. He claimed that increasing the starting hourly wages of McDonald's employees from $7.25 to $15 would only raise the price of a Big Mac by 68 cents and the price of a dollar menu item by 17 cents.

Here's the man himself speaking:

“Some folks online are complaining they will not pay $2 for their Dollar Menu, but the truth is that even if McDonald’s doubled salaries the price hike would not be 100%,” Morelix said. “I will be happy to pay 17 cents more for my Dollar Menu so that fast food workers can have a living wage, and I believe people deserve to know that price hikes would not be as high as it is often portrayed.”

I'm not an economist either, but I do play one on this blog. Let me spell this out for you. We don't care one bit that you would happily pay 17 cents more for a dollar menu item. You are not McDonald's only customer and other customers would buy less. We call this concept marginalism, where when the cost of something goes up people respond by buying less of it.

This assumes of course that McDonald's doesn't change it's menu to respond to the wage changes. I remember a few years ago when double cheeseburgers were on the dollar menu. Material costs became an issue and McDonald's responded by creating the "McDouble," which is a double cheeseburger with only one piece of cheese.

Because of these losses in sales, McDonald's would become less profitable. This is because of something called deadweight losses, where cost increases change the point of equilibrium. That's a double-whammy for McDonald's, a loss in sales and in profits for each sale.

While Morelix feels good because the workers he's seeing are enjoying a political creation called a "living wage," the laid off workers he's not seeing are having a worse time. That's because when the cost of labor goes up employers respond by buying less of it. You know, like we learned three paragraphs ago. That means more automation of tasks, smaller work crews and more demanding workloads for all employees.

Morelix's analysis isn't just superficial, it's fundamentally flawed. The same time O'Connor's post went up the Huffington Post withdrew a similar piece after the Columbia Journalism Review said it fundamentally misunderstood the composition of McDonald's as a whole and that those cost estimates were only two-thirds of the way there. If current wages doubled it would wipe out nearly all of the company's profits.

That didn't stop lefties from spreading the misinformation to the four corners of the Earth, but isn't that what people do when an outrageous pieces confirms their world view?